Sub-Saharan Africa

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Sub-Saharan Africa
Sahara Sahel sub-Saharan Africa.svg
Geographical map of sub-Saharan Africa
  The Sahara
  The Sahel
  Sub-Saharan Africa
Major citiesAbidjan, Accra, Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Durban, Harare, Johannesburg, Juba, Kampala, Kinshasa, Lagos, Luanda, Lusaka, Mogadishu, Nairobi, Pretoria, Windhoek
Religions (2020)
 • Christianity62.0%
 • Islam31.4%
 • Traditional faiths3.2%
 • No religion3.0%
 • Other0.4%
LanguagesOver 1,000 languages
  1. ^ Per UNHCR Global Trends in 2019, the sub-Saharan population was 1.1 billion.
Eastern Africa
, though the organization states that "the assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories."
Red: Arab states in Africa (Arab League and UNESCO
Simplified climatic map of Africa: sub-Saharan Africa consists of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa in the north (yellow), the tropical savannas (light green) and the tropical rainforests (dark green) of Equatorial Africa, and the arid Kalahari Basin (yellow) and the "Mediterranean" south coast (olive) of Southern Africa. The numbers shown correspond to the dates of all Iron Age artifacts associated with the Bantu expansion

Sub-Saharan Africa is the area and regions of the continent of Africa that lie south of the Sahara. These include Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa. Geopolitically, in addition to the African countries and territories that are situated fully in that specified region, the term may also include polities that only have part of their territory located in that region, per the definition of the United Nations (UN).[3] This is considered a non-standardized geographical region with the number of countries included varying from 46 to 48 depending on the organization describing the region (e.g. UN, WHO, World Bank, etc.). The African Union (AU) uses a different regional breakdown, recognizing all 55 member states on the continent—grouping them into five distinct and standard regions.

The term serves as a grouping counterpart to North Africa, which is instead grouped with the definition of MENA (i.e. Middle East–North Africa) as it is part of the Arab world, and most North African states are likewise members of the Arab League. However, while they are also member states of the Arab League, the Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, and Somalia (and sometimes the Sudan) are all geographically considered to be part of sub-Saharan Africa.[4] Overall, the UN Development Programme applies the "sub-Saharan" classification to 46 of Africa's 55 countries, excluding Djibouti, SADR, Somalia, and Sudan.[5]

Since around 3900 BCE,[6][7] the Saharan and sub-Saharan regions of Africa have been separated by the extremely harsh climate of the sparsely populated Sahara, forming an effective barrier that is interrupted only by the Nile in Sudan, though navigation on the Nile was blocked by the Sudd and the river's cataracts. There is also an evident genetic divide between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa that dates back to the Neolithic. The Sahara pump theory explains how flora and fauna (including Homo sapiens) left Africa to penetrate Eurasia and beyond. African pluvial periods are associated with a "Wet Sahara" phase, during which larger lakes and more rivers existed.[8]


Geographers historically divided the region into several distinct ethnographic sections based on each area's respective inhabitants.[9]

Commentators in Arabic in the

Western Sudan.[11] Its equivalent in Southeast Africa was Zanj ('Country of the Blacks'), which was situated in the vicinity of the Great Lakes region.[9][11]

The geographers drew an explicit ethnographic distinction between the Sudan region and its analogue Zanj, from the area to their extreme east on the

Somalis were referred to by medieval Arab and ancient Greek geographers, respectively.[9][14][15][16]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the populations south of the Sahara were divided into three broad ancestral groups:

Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan families; and Khoisan in Southern Africa, who spoke languages belonging to the Khoisan

Climate zones and ecoregions

Sub-Saharan Africa has a wide variety of

. It has a dry winter season and a wet summer season.



Stone chopping tool from Olduvai Gorge

According to

bipedal locomotion and freed hands, giving them a crucial advantage enabling them to live in both forested areas and on the open savanna at a time when Africa was drying up, with savanna encroaching on forested areas. This occurred 10 million to 5 million years ago.[18]

By 3 million years ago several

game and weakened larger prey such as cubs and older animals. The tools were classed as Oldowan.[19]

Roughly 1.8 million years ago,

H. georgicus, a H. habilis descendant, was the first and most primitive hominid to ever live outside Africa, many scientists consider H. georgicus to be an early and primitive member of the H. erectus species.[20]

The fossil and genetic evidence shows

out of Africa launched the colonization of the planet by modern humans. By 10,000 BCE, Homo sapiens had spread to all corners of the world. This dispersal of the human species is suggested by linguistic, cultural and genetic evidence.[19][24][25]

During the 11th millennium BP, pottery was independently invented in West Africa, with the earliest pottery there dating to about 9,400 BC from central Mali.[26] It spread throughout the Sahel and southern Sahara.[27]

After the Sahara became a desert, it did not present a totally impenetrable barrier for travelers between north and south because of the application of animal husbandry towards carrying water, food, and supplies across the desert. Prior to the introduction of the

trans-saharan trade was in full motion by 500 BCE with Carthage being a major economic force for its establishment.[29][30][31] It is thought that the camel was first brought to Egypt after the Persian Empire conquered Egypt in 525 BCE, although large herds did not become common enough in North Africa for camels to be the pack animal of choice for the trans-saharan trade.[32]

West Africa

Nok sculpture, terracotta, Louvre

The Bantu expansion is a major migration movement that originated in West Central Africa (possibly around Cameroon) around 2500 BCE, reaching East and Central Africa by 1000 BCE and Southern Africa by the early centuries CE.


Great Mosque of Djenne
is most reflective of Sahelian architecture and is the largest adobe building in the world.

In the forest zone, several states and empires such as

Ifẹ and Oyo in the western block of Nigeria which became prominent about 700–900 and 1400 respectively, and center of Yoruba culture. The Yoruba's built massive mud walls around their cities, the most famous being Sungbo's Eredo. Another prominent kingdom in southwestern Nigeria was the Kingdom of Benin 9th–11th century whose power lasted between the 15th and 19th century and was one of the greatest Empires of African history documented all over the world. Their dominance reached as far as the well-known city of Eko which was named Lagos by the Portuguese traders and other early European settlers. The Edo-speaking people of Benin are known for their famous bronze casting and rich coral, wealth, ancient science and technology and the Walls of Benin
, which is the largest man-made structure in the world.

In the 18th century, the Oyo and the

Aro confederacy were responsible for most of the slaves exported from modern-day Nigeria, selling them to European slave traders.[36] Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British expanded their influence into the Nigerian interior. In 1885, British claims to a West African sphere of influence received international recognition, and in the following year the Royal Niger Company was chartered under the leadership of Sir George Goldie. In 1900, the company's territory came under the control of the British government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria. On 1 January 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate as part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time. Nigeria was granted its independence in 1960 during the period of decolonization

Central Africa

Fictionalised portrait of Nzinga, queen of the Ndongo and Matamba

Archeological finds in Central Africa provide evidence of human settlement that may date back over 10,000 years.[37] According to Zangato and Holl, there is evidence of iron-smelting in the Central African Republic and Cameroon that may date back to 3,000 to 2,500 BCE.[38] Extensive walled sites and settlements have recently been found in Zilum, Chad. The area is located approximately 60 km (37 mi) southwest of Lake Chad, and has been radiocarbon dated to the first millennium BCE.[39][40]

Trade and improved agricultural techniques supported more sophisticated societies, leading to the early civilizations of

Baguirmi, and Wadai.[41]

Following the

Luba Kingdom in southeast Congo came about under a king whose political authority derived from religious, spiritual legitimacy. The kingdom controlled agriculture and regional trade of salt and iron from the north and copper from the Zambian/Congo copper belt.[42]

Rival kingship factions which split from the Luba Kingdom later moved among the Lunda people, marrying into its elite and laying the foundation of the

Lunda Empire in the 16th century. The ruling dynasty centralised authority among the Lunda under the Mwata Yamyo or Mwaant Yaav. The Mwata Yamyo's legitimacy, like that of the Luba king, came from being viewed as a spiritual religious guardian. This imperial cult or system of divine kings was spread to most of central Africa by rivals in kingship migrating and forming new states. Many new states received legitimacy by claiming descent from the Lunda dynasties.[42]

The Kingdom of Kongo existed from the Atlantic west to the Kwango river to the east. During the 15th century, the Bakongo farming community was united with its capital at M'banza-Kongo, under the king title, Manikongo.[42] Other significant states and peoples included the Kuba Kingdom, producers of the famous raffia cloth, the Eastern Lunda, Bemba, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Kingdom of Ndongo.

East Africa


Sphinx of the Nubian Emperor Taharqa

better source needed

Horn of Africa

Stone city of Gondershe
, Somalia


Axumite Empire spanned the southern Sahara, south Arabia and the Sahel along the western shore of the Red Sea. Located in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, Aksum was deeply involved in the trade network between India and the Mediterranean. Growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period (c. 4th century BCE), it rose to prominence by the 1st century CE. The Aksumites constructed monolithic stelae to cover the graves of their kings, such as King Ezana's Stele. The later Zagwe dynasty, established in the 12th century, built churches out of solid rock. These rock-hewn structures include the Church of St. George at Lalibela


GrecoRoman trade.[45]

In the Middle Ages several powerful Somali empires dominated the region's trade, including the

Southeast Africa

According to the theory of

Nilotic and Bantu-speaking peoples moved into the region
, and the latter now account for three-quarters of Kenya's population.

The Tongoni Ruins south of Tanga in Tanzania

On the coastal section of Southeast Africa, a mixed Bantu community developed through contact with

loan-words as a consequence of these interactions.[53]

The earliest Bantu inhabitants of the Southeast coast of Kenya and Tanzania encountered by these later Arab and Persian settlers have been variously identified with the trading settlements of Rhapta, Azania and Menouthias[54] referenced in early Greek and Chinese writings from 50 CE to 500 CE.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62] These early writings perhaps document the first wave of Bantu settlers to reach Southeast Africa during their migration.[63]

Between the 14th and 15th centuries, large medieval Southeast African kingdoms and states emerged, such as the

kingdoms of Uganda and Tanzania.

During the early 1960s, the Southeast African nations achieved independence from colonial rule.

Southern Africa

Settlements of

Monomotapa was a medieval kingdom (c. 1250–1629), which existed between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers of Southern Africa in the territory of modern-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Its old capital was located at Great Zimbabwe

In 1487,

Dutch possession. In 1795, the Dutch colony was captured by the British during the French Revolutionary Wars. The British intended to use Cape Town as a major port on the route to Australia and India. It was later returned to the Dutch in 1803, but soon afterward the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy, and the Dutch (now under French control) and the British found themselves at war again. The British captured the Dutch possession yet again at the Battle of Blaauwberg, commanded by Sir David Blair. The Zulu Kingdom was a Southern African tribal state in what is now KwaZulu-Natal in southeastern South Africa. The small kingdom gained world fame during and after their defeat in the Anglo-Zulu War. During the 1950s and early 1960s, most sub-Saharan African nations achieved independence from colonial rule.[65]



According to the 2022 revision of the World Population Prospects[66][67], the population of sub-Saharan Africa was 1.1 billion in 2019. The current growth rate is 2.3%. The UN predicts for the region a population between 2 and 2.5 billion by 2050[68] with a population density of 80 per km2 compared to 170 for Western Europe, 140 for Asia and 30 for the Americas.

Sub-Saharan African countries top the

list of countries and territories by fertility rate with 40 of the highest 50, all with TFR greater than 4 in 2008. All are above the world average except South Africa and Seychelles.[69] More than 40% of the population in sub-Saharan countries is younger than 15 years old, as well as in Sudan, with the exception of South Africa.[70]

Area (km2)
Literacy (M/F)[71] GDP per Capita (PPP)[72] Trans Archived 12 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine (Rank/Score)[73] Life (Exp.)[71] HDI EODBR/SAB[74] PFI (RANK/MARK)
 Angola 18,498,000 1,246,700 82.9%/54.2% 6,800 168/2 42.4 0.486 172/171 132/58,43
 Burundi 8,988,091 27,830 67.3%/52.2% 700 168/1.8 49 0.316 176/130 103/29,00
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 68,692,542 2,345,410 80.9%/54.1% 800 162/11.9 46.1 0.286 182/152 146/53,50
 Cameroon 18,879,301 475,440 77%/59.8% 3,700 146/2.2 50.3 0.482 171/174 109/30,50
 Central African Republic 4,511,488 622,984 64.8%/33.5% 700 158/2.8 44.4 0.343 183/159 80/17,75
 Chad 10,329,208 1,284,000 40.8%/12.8% 2,300 175/1.6 50.6 0.328 178/182 132/44,50
 Republic of the Congo 3,700,000 342,000 90.5%/ 79.0% 800 162/1.9 54.8 0.533 N/A 116/34,25
 Equatorial Guinea 1,110,000 28,051 93.4%/80.3% 37,400 168/1.8 51.1 0.537 170/178 158/65,50
 Gabon 1,514,993 267,667 88.5%/79.7% 18,100 106/2.9 56.7 0.674 158/152 129/43,50
 Kenya 39,002,772 582,650 77.7%/70.2 3,500 146/2.2 57.8 0.519 95/124 96/25,00
 Nigeria 174,507,539 923,768 84.4%/72.7%[75] 5,900 136/2.7 57 0.504 131/120 112/34.24
 Rwanda 10,473,282 26,338 71.4%/59.8% 2,100 89/3.3 46.8 0.429 67/11 157/64,67
 São Tomé and Príncipe 212,679 1,001 92.2%/77.9% 3,200 111/2.8 65.2 0.509 180/140 NA
 Tanzania 44,928,923 945,087 77.5%/62.2% 3,200 126/2.6 51.9 0.466 131/120 NA/15,50
 Uganda 32,369,558 236,040 76.8%/57.7 2,400 130/2.5 50.7 0.446 112/129 86/21,50
 Sudan 31,894,000 1,886,068 79.6%/60.8% 4,300 176/1.5 62.57[76] 0.408 154/118 148/54,00
 South Sudan 8,260,490 619,745 1,600
 Djibouti 516,055 23,000 N/A 3,600 111/2.8 54.5 0.430 163/177 110/31,00
 Eritrea 5,647,168 121,320 N/A 1,600 126/2.6 57.3 0.349 175/181 175/115,50
 Ethiopia 85,237,338 1,127,127 50%/28.8% 2,200 120/2.7 52.5 0.363 107/93 140/49,00
 Somalia 9,832,017 637,657 N/A N/A 180/1.1 47.7 N/A N/A 164/77,50
 Botswana 1,990,876 600,370 80.4%/81.8% 17,000 37/5.6 49.8 0.633 45/83 62/15,50
 Comoros 752,438 2,170 N/A 1,600 143/2.3 63.2 0.433 162/168 82/19,00
 Lesotho 2,130,819 30,355 73.7%/90.3% 3,300 89/3.3 42.9 0.450 130/131 99/27,50
 Madagascar 19,625,000 587,041 76.5%/65.3% 1,600 99/3.0 59 0.480 134/12 134/45,83
 Malawi 14,268,711 118,480 N/A 1,200 89/3.3 47.6 0.400 132/128 62/15,50
 Mauritius 1,284,264 2,040 88.2%/80.5% 22,300 42/5.4 73.2 0.728 17/10 51/14,00
 Mozambique 21,669,278 801,590 N/A 1,300 130/2.5 42.5 0.322 135/96 82/19,00
 Namibia 2,108,665 825,418 86.8%/83.6% 11,200 56/4.5 52.5 0.625 66/123 35/9,00
 Seychelles 87,476 455 91.4%/92.3% 29,300 54/4.8 72.2 0.773 111/81 72/16,00
 South Africa 59,899,991 1,219,912 N/A 13,600 55/4.7 50.7 0.619 34/67 33/8,50
 Eswatini 1,123,913 17,363 80.9%/78.3% 11,089 79/3.6 40.8 0.608 115/158 144/52,50
 Zambia 11,862,740 752,614 N/A 4,000 99/3.0 41.7 0.430 90/94 97/26,75
 Zimbabwe 11,392,629 390,580 92.7%/86.2% 2,300 146/2.2 42.7 0.376 159/155 136/46,50
 Benin 8,791,832 112,620 47.9%/42.3% 2,300 106/2.9 56.2 0.427 172/155 97/26,75
 Mali 12,666,987 1,240,000 32.7%/15.9% 2,200 111/2.8 53.8 0.359 156/139 38/8,00
 Burkina Faso 15,730,977 274,200 25.3% 1,900 79/3.6 51 0.331 150/116 N/A
 Cape Verde 499,000 322,462 7,000
 Ivory Coast 20,617,068 322,463 3,900
 Gambia 1,782,893 11,295 2,600
 Ghana 24,200,000 238,535 4,700
 Guinea 10,057,975 245,857 2,200
 Guinea-Bissau 1,647,000 36,125 1,900
 Liberia 4,128,572 111,369 1,300
 Mauritania 3,359,185 1,030,700 4,500
 Niger 17,129,076 1,267,000 1,200
 Senegal 12,855,153 196,712 3,500
 Sierra Leone 6,190,280 71,740 1,600
 Togo 7,154,237 56,785 1,700

GDP per Capita (PPP) (2016, 2017 (PPP, US$)), Life (Exp.) (Life Expectancy 2006), Literacy (Male/Female 2006), Trans (Transparency 2009), HDI (Human Development Index), EODBR (Ease of Doing Business Rank June 2008 through May 2009), SAB (Starting a Business June 2008 through May 2009), PFI (Press Freedom Index 2009)

Languages and ethnic groups